When former Nederland Community Presbyterian Church Pastor Don Dexter learned that his friend Phillys Wright had suffered a mini-stroke, he wrote her a letter listing 10 reasons why he loved her. These were words he had never said to her during the years of their friendship and he wanted to let her know how much he loved her and why.
“Because you can pick weeds and arrange them in a vase to look like something any flatlander would spend $185 to buy.
“Because you are a mountain artist who loves to paint, and anyone who loves to paint knows how to use their eyes in the way God intended. You see beauty. You appreciate beauty. You create beauty.
“Because you’re the gentlest gossip with whom I have ever had a conversation. There are people who rub you and me the wrong way, but somehow when talking about them you are able to separate the “rub” from the person and see the best in him or her. You see the best in everyone, and in your gentle way you remind us that we are all children of God and should be treated as such.
“Because you are a gardener who can think of no place you would rather be on a Saturday morning than at a “One hour weed pull” or working in the Peace Garden with friends.
“Because you are a pacifist who protests wars with pens, marches, placards, flower gardens, and with such idealistic optimism that you believe it will make a difference.
“Because your politics are so radical and consistently progressive, and your theology has no dogma to drag it down.
‘Because once when I organized an “Ash Wednesday” service, nobody came but you.
“Because your spiritual gift is that of hospitality and everyone who knows you will say the same thing. I’m hard pressed to think of a NCPC reception where you were not playing a central role. And that’s just our church. Think of all the cakes you have cut over the years!
‘Because you lived all those years alone in your mountain home after your husband died, and stayed on even after a bear climbed through your window ate his dinner right out of your refrigerator. I don’t know many women who have the courage, strength and fortitude you have shown us.
“Because you have the most beautiful white hair on the mountain, and the soft wrinkles around your eyes are a testimony to the joy, laughter and lightness of your heart as if to say, “Why worry about tomorrow when there is so much goodness and beauty to enjoy today.”
His words capture all that was Phillys and are echoed again and again by those who had the good fortune to know her.
Phillys Eloise Wright, an angel who walked this earth, passed away on March 1, 2013 at Boulder Manor. She was 85 years young. Phillys was born in Buchanan County, Iowa on a farm outside of Troy Mills to Orie and Blanche Long. She was known as the “egg baby” as the doctor who did not make it for the delivery but showed up afterwards was paid in eggs for his services.
Following Phillys’ graduation from Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, she married the love of her life, Stanley Clyde Wright on June 5, 1949. He opened her eyes to what the world might be if peace prevailed. After living in several places, Portland, Oregon, Muskegon, Michigan and Greeley, Colorado, they finally settled in Barnesville, Ohio to raise their family. Phillys taught third graders for many years at Barnesville Elementary. Finally, Phillys and Stan decided to return to the state they loved most Colorado in 1982.
In Nederland, Colorado, Phillys was active as a volunteer for Amnesty International, was involved with the Mountain Forum for Peace, attended many peace protests in the area, was active helping the Nederland Fire Department and involved in her faith with the Nederland Community Presbyterian Church.
Phillys loved to paint, visit with her many wonderful friends, be in nature, watch as the humming birds visited her bird feeders, work for peace, but mostly she loved her family and especially her grandchildren.
Phillys’s daughter Jane says she remembers
attending a peace demonstrations as early as the 1960’s in Washington D.C. “Mom always said that Dad opened her eyes to peace and what it could mean for the world. She wanted a peaceful world for her kids and her grandkids. I remember getting calls from her while I was in college letting me know that they were off to another peace demonstration and not to worry if I could not get a hold of them.
“Later, after they moved to Colorado, they found a group that shared their ideas of peace and felt they had finally found a home of great people and stimulating conversations.
“Mom was so giving. I remember her visits to her sister Lenore in California as she was losing her fight with cancer. Mom stayed by her side until the end, giving whatever support she needed. Then she was the rock to my Dad who passed away in 1994. She was there for him in his decline from Ataxia. She never grumbled. I also remember a friend whom she sat with that died from aids. She was not scared to tend to his needs in the later part of his life.
In 1997, she made weekly trips to Iowa to visit her mother who was in a nursing home and then drive cross country to Edwards, Colorado to stay with me as I was on bed rest and pregnant. Mom did this for three months until my grandmother died in August. Then she turned full attention to me. When Aubrey was delivered and I was having trouble she came, stayed in the hospital caring for Aubrey, Murray and me until I was well enough to go home.
That experience marked the start of a beautiful relationship between Aubrey and Mom. As any grandma, Aubrey was her joy. When we moved to Lafayette, Mom was with Aubrey every Friday until Aubrey went to Kindergarten. They had tea parties, played Disney princesses and princes, spent lots of time exploring the trail near our house, and of course painted. Visits continued between the two as they both got older. Aubrey spent weeks with Mom during the summer. It was a special time when they could paint and read together.
When Andrew was born, she loved him with all her heart. She kept seeing all the good in him. She also provided him the chance to paint and if a mess was made, well, they just cleaned it up. Her years as a school teacher helped her to see his potential and made sure I was aware of it as well.
These last couple of years, I would call her every morning to check in with her. She would tell me of all the activities she was doing, all the friends she was visiting, how the gallery was going. She was full of life, vibrant and loved living in Nederland. Once she heard her diagnosis, she told me she had lived her life the way she thought God had wanted her to. She said she was ready to leave and be with Dad. I know my kids have two very special angels in heaven watching over them.
I will miss her with all my heart. She was my rock and confident. She taught me how to live your conscious by example. I was so very privileged to have been able to call her Mom.”
Aubrey, Phillys’s grandma says, “My grandma is a strong willed woman who argues for what she believes in. My grandma is active in her community and is kind to everyone there. She likes art and I can see an artistic side that has a very strong imagination. When I see her painting of the mountains I feel as if I am flying on an eagle to capture this moment. My grandma is caring. She had a stroke once and when she got better she called to ask if I was okay. She thinks of others before herself.
My grandma is responsible and will refuse to go home until her part of the job is finished. My grandma is patient. I have never seen her get mad. She always has a smile on her face and never frowns. She looks at a cup that is half way between full and empty full; never empty. My grandma is optimistic and won’t ever look at something from a negative point of view.
“My grandma is a nature lover; she goes out to feed the birds, put out water for them, picks up trash, and picks up after she is done being outside. The only time I have ever seen her annoyed with nature is when a bear gets into her garbage or when a deer eats her crops. My mom says “She is an angel who walks the earth.”
Phillys was loved by all. When she and Stan moved to Nederland, they opened a donut shop in the former Ben’s Emporium. She became involved in the first Forum for Peace peace vigil held at the sculpture garden, which she tended religiously. Eventually the donut shop became an ice cream shop. The sign on the window read, “Ice cream, donuts and fresh live bait.”
Phillys and Stan became active in protesting the Nevada Test site and joined a protest circle at Rocky Flats. She was one of the founding members of the Mountain Forum for Peach and also one of the owners of the Palette Gallery in Nederland. The gallery became a venue for local artists. She also organized art shows at the Nederland Community Presbyterian Church.
Julia Davis says she will miss her good friend and can’t fathom her absence. “She was a quiet, steady presence in the church, the gallery, and with the seniors . She was in many places in the community. “She had high standards about how the world should be, but she also understood human frailty.”
Fellow artist and friend Kathy Spratford says, “Sitting with Phillys is like sitting with a cup of tea. She was a gift in my life in so many ways and she will be in my heart always.”
Phillys was preceded in death by her husband, Stanley, on March 19, 1994 and her sister Lenore Egleston of California.
She is survived by her son, Cory Wright of Gilpin County, Colorado, her daughter and husband, Jane and Murray Schatz of Lafayette, Colorado, her beloved grandchildren, Aubrey and Andrew Schatz, and 3 sisters, Sherry Haight, Pauline Schatzel and Rosemary Dake, all residing in Iowa.
A memorial service will be held for family and friends on March 17, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. at the Nederland Community Presbyterian Church. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Fellowship of Reconciliation or Mountain Forum for Peace.